“I don’t want to go home to him,” I sobbed to my mum.
Nope, I wasn’t referring to a friend who was grinding my gears, or even an ex desperate to make amends. I’d forgive you for thinking so.
Well, me. It’s not an easy confession to make. And certainly not one I make lightly.
But, whether we like to admit it or not, we all have moments when we wish we could take our mum hat off and bury our face in a pillow for an unspecified period of time.
Yep, being a mum makes my soul sing. But sometimes that tune falls flat. It’s harder than any parenting manual warned or well-meaning friend quipped when you announced you were expecting.
It tests you in a way no one could possibly prepare you for; emotionally, physically, spiritually, pushing you to your limits in every sense.
So, let me take you back. Allow me to explain how I reached the point of wishing I was anywhere but home, and watch me attempt to dial down the judgement I can feel searing my skin before the overwhelming urge to delete everything I’ve written kicks in, and I revert back to belting “everything’s amazing!” in that faux sing-song tune I’ve perfected every time someone (usually without children) enthusiastically asks me “how is everything going!!!???”
Ollie has been… difficult. To say the least. A melting pot of temper and tantrums, and because I’m managing this gig solo, guess who morphs into the perfect punching bag? Yep, mum.
Every meal time is a battle. Every time I try to play with him, love him, cuddle him, tears shortly follow. Swimming lessons, his favourite past time, leave my body bruised and battered.
“I never see him smile anymore,” I cry.
“I’m sure everything’s fine,” his father responds.
“He’s just going through a leap,” the maternal health nurse reassures me.
“But maybe you should get him checked out by the doctor just in case.”
So, that’s where we go.
“I’m not usually one of those mums,” I like to make very clear when I am being exactly like one of those mums, “but he’s just not himself. He hit his head a few weeks ago, not too hard, he fell back at swimming, maybe it’s that? He’s sleeping fine, but his appetite is off, and basically, I don’t know what to do, because he seems to hate me, and I don’t know what I’ve done wrong, he is always crying, he never seems happy, please help.”
I cut myself off as the tears start welling, and then, instinct kicks in, and that faux smile takes over my face.
“But other than that, everything’s fine!”
Who am I kidding? No it’s not. I’m struggling.
“I’m sure it’s nothing,” the doctor says, nonchalantly.
Relief kicks in, followed by a hint of embarrassment, I dragged him all the way here and nothing’s wrong, I’m clearly overreacting, and I’ve decided that’s definitely what the doctor thinks too.
I’m “one of those mums”.
“But here’s a referral anyway, I think it’s wise to take him to the Children’s Hospital, just to make sure, that knock he took to his head has me slightly concerned.”
I whisk him straight there, the drive punctuated by teary calls to his dad, his mum and my mum.
“I’m sure everything’s fine,” Ollie’s dad says, but this time, his tone isn’t so certain.
The next few hours are a blur of specialists, nurses and doctors. Eventually, the friendly paediatrician confirms yep, it’s probably just a stage.
“I’m sure everything will be fine,” she concludes with a brush to his cheek, “isn’t he gorgeous!?”
So, yep, there you go. Nothing was wrong. He was as fit as a fiddle. It was just a stage. But that doesn’t mean my sanity wasn’t tested, my patience wasn’t paper thin, and my confidence in my parenting ability hadn’t plummeted to an all-time low.
You’re probably wondering right now what the point of that whole story is considering well, nothing happened. Well, at the very least, this is my way of confessing how my mum guilt skyrocketed to a record high in the aftermath of a breakdown wishing I was anywhere else but home with my son.
But I try to see the lesson in everything, so this is how I see it. Without a sidekick arriving home each night to relieve my aching arms of their duty, every last ounce of my energy was spent. I was at my wit’s end.
What I’ve learned is it’s okay to feel overwhelmed. To want to run away and hide. To wonder how you’re possibly going to get through the next few hours, let alone 18 years! If we could all ditch our faux smiles and sing-song automated replies, perhaps we’d notice when others are struggling, and perhaps those crappy times won’t feel quite as bad when you realise that every other mum you know has probably wished they were anywhere but home with a testy toddler at one stage too.
It doesn’t mean you love your child any less.
In fact, it’s kind of the opposite when you think about it. Because if you didn’t really care, the hard times wouldn’t be so hard, would they? You wouldn’t feel it as deeply as you do when they refuse their third dinner, and you certainly wouldn’t take their tantrums so personally. Everything stings so sharply because you care so much. It’s also okay to “be one of those mums” as you go to all ends of the world to quadruple check your baby is okay. Because when they’re off, you’re off. It all goes hand in hand. All you want is the best for them, and when every avenue of achieving that is exhausted, and you feel you literally have no idea how to make things better, then who can blame you for temporarily wanting to bury your head in the sand?
I love my son. But that’s the thing about love. It doesn’t come easy, and it makes you work for it. Love needs a bit of fire to keep it alive – complacency only suffocates it. Thanks for making this ride one hell of a journey, Ollie John. You’re many things, but boring isn’t one of them.